We asked wedding planners for their best ideas on how to save on the big day. The guests won't suspect a thing.
Want to cut down on your wedding costs, but have nightmares about a roomful of guests picking at iceberg lettuce for dinner? Brides- and grooms-to-be, take comfort: Trimming wedding costs doesn't have to mean foregoing the Plaza suite in favor of Grandma's spare attic bedroom. Wedding consultants around the country told us that there are plenty of ways to nip and tuck the fat in your wedding budget -- without your family and friends being any the wiser.
And there's lots of fat to cut. According to Richard Markel, president of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is now between $18,000 and $21,000. Of course, the costs vary greatly from region to region. He notes that in the elegant suburbs of Long Island, N.Y., the tab routinely reaches $40,000 to $50,000, while "you can have an awesome wedding for $12,000 in Walla Walla, Wash.," he says.
1. Avoid the High Season
In case you haven't noticed, the majority of weddings take place from May through October. So you could save across the board - on limos, photographers and caterers, etc., - by getting married during one of the quieter months, such as January or March, says Carley Roney, editor-in-chief of TheKnot.com, a Web site focused on weddings.
2. Daylight Savings
Wedding consultants all agree: Reception halls charge the highest fees for 7 p.m. on Saturday night. Any other time is guaranteed to be a bargain. "I always encourage brides to consider Sunday brunch," says Mimi Doke, owner of The Wedding Specialist in Arizona. "Or, if late-night drinking is important, then go for Friday evening."
3. Bond With Other Brides
Doke also suggests her clients network with other brides to divvy up the decorating costs at catering halls. "Talk to the bride who is getting married immediately before or after to see if you have similar ideas for decorations," she says. "If so, you might be able to split the cost." Experts say reception halls usually recycle the decorations, but charge every bride for them anyway.
4. Cut the Cake
Another unnecessary reception budget-breaker: overloading on sweets. "People really overspend on desserts," says Marcia French of Stardust Celebrations in Dallas. "They'll get a three-tiered bridal cake, plus a chocolate one for the groom, and have a full tray of desserts at the reception." She points out that after a long evening of eating, drinking and dancing, many guests will forego dessert altogether. For smaller weddings, she recommends using a faux bottom for the lower two tiers of the bridal cake: "It will look good for the pictures, and that's really what matters," she says.
And for bigger weddings, here's another trick: Choose a smaller version of your dream wedding cake and then get sheet cake (in the same flavor as the wedding cake) that can be cut in back and served to guests. They'll never notice!
5. Greens Are Good
And how many of the guests know what kind of flowers are in season at any given time of year? "Stay with what's in season, use more greens and fewer blooms," advises Carol Koch Waldmann, a wedding consultant in Natick, Mass. "No one will ever notice." Roses are always available, but brides should steer clear of floral-intensive holidays such as Mother's Day, when high demand will drive up costs. Another flower tip from Regina Tate of Regina's in Nederland, Texas: Don't feel the need to adorn the church with fresh flowers for the ceremony. "People expect churches to be less ornate, and they'll spend a lot more time at the reception," she says.
6. Dress Down the Gown
Assuming that no one at the wedding will be checking out the tags on your bridal gown, the dress can be another good place to economize. Tate says that cheaper fabrics are almost always available for every dress design, and that using a lower-end satin can cut the cost by almost two-thirds. Sample sales and outlet stores are other good bets, and remember, the gown doesn't need to fit like a glove right away: having a too-large dress fitted will still be cheaper than buying one that's custom-made. For those who favor less complicated designs, consider using this trick from Erin Smith, a bride-to-be in Boston. "I went to a bridal shop and picked out one of their bridesmaid dresses, ordered it in white, and voila -- simple wedding dress," she says.
7. Do Yourself a Favor
According to Markel, the average number of wedding guests is 149, which means that overspending on seemingly inexpensive items such as invites and party favors can add up to a big hit on your checkbook. "If you use candy kisses in the favor instead of truffles, you'll save about $3 per bag," French says. Other experts recommend letting place cards double as favors, or incorporating the favors into a creative table centerpiece of chocolates or candles. One bride French knows used assortments of giant, colorful seashells for her centerpieces; guests loved it. Ann Rinke put a small bowl filled with smooth rocks and a live goldfish on each table when she got married last November. The guests were given plastic bags to take the fish home.
8. Save a Tree
Waldmann, who estimates that most brides end up overshooting their initial budget by about 15%, encourages her clients to think twice before spending hundreds of dollars on a seven-piece hand-engraved invite. The invitation liner is completely unnecessary, she says, as are separate enclosure cards. Keeping it to a single sheet, she notes, saves on the costs of both paper and postage.
Of course, talk to wedding consultants, and you'll hear that the No. 1 must-do savings tip is...hire a wedding consultant. In theory, the consultant will do all the legwork for you, shop around for the best bargains, and use their network of vendors to get insider deals. But with some of these pros charging up to 15% of the total wedding budget, we'll leave you to determine if that's a cost-cutting move you want to make.